By Luke Robinson
I have always been a relatively “low-risk” type of guy. As my wife will attest (because I usually wake her up around 5:00 each morning), I am an “early to bed, early to rise” person. Let me put it this way: If life were a football team, I would be less “Gus Malzahn” and more “whatever the hell Arkansas runs.” However, for reasons totally unclear to all who know me, I have always wanted to take one gigantic risk that many people consider borderline suicidal: skydiving.
Now, before I get started with this story I have a confession: Despite being born and raised on beautiful Lake Martin in Alexander City, I have never jumped off of the top of the famous Chimney Rock. Honestly, I have lied to most everyone and said I have taken that plunge in the past. Being from Alex City and not jumping off of Chimney Rock is like being from Philadelphia and never having a cheese steak. Or being from Vegas and never having to pawn a necklace you stole from your cousin. So then I am sure you ask, “Why would Chimney Rock be more intimidating to me than a 14,000-foot drop from an airplane?”
First of all, if I do a back buster while skydiving, at least I won’t feel it. Secondly, there is a much better chance that my shorts won’t come off when I land. Finally, when I touch bottom after skydiving, that is a good thing; getting to the bottom after jumping off of Chimney Rock? Not so good. For all I know Jimmy Hoffa is down there.
Anyhoo, a couple of years ago I decided that the time was right for me to spread my wings. But before I could jump out of the plane, I had to jump on the scales.
I wasn’t made aware of the 240-pound weight limit until the Wednesday afternoon prior to my Saturday jump. That Wednesday I weighed 241 on the nose. Therefore, for two and a half days, I doubled my daily workout routine. I went from “not working out at all” to “using the remote control with extra vigor.” Whatever I did must have worked because when we arrived at the Sorta-Kinda International Airport of Cullman, the scales were lenient in calling me a svelte 239.5 pounds. That means I am literally the largest human being that can go skydiving I guess. Woot!
Skydive Alabama, the group that takes you into the wild blue yonder and then promptly throws you back toward Earth, showed us a brief tutorial video. It explained about body positioning, hand signals, things to do in an emergency, etc. In other words, my plan of flailing wildly while screaming would not be the method of choice. After the video, I had a few nervous moments to kill. I struck up a conversation with the videographer. Incredibly stupidly, I reached into my bag of dumbass questions and asked him, “Hey…ever come close to dying?”
He replied, “Well yeah…just last week I was in a ‘death spiral’ in Kansas and….” I felt my eyes get really wide and I inquired, “You were in a what now?” (He turned at the sounds of engine noise) “Welp…There’s our plane!” Just for a moment while we were putting on our jump suits, I wondered if it was too late to run to Rite Aid and pick up a pair of adult undergarments.
Eventually, we began the steady climb to 14,000 feet. Yes, 14,000. That’s like 5,000 more feet than 9,000 which is 8,990 feet taller than a basketball goal…and it would hurt me if I fell from a basketball goal. I mentally debated whether it would take more courage to jump or try to overtake the pilots and fly myself home. Then, lo and behold, it was my turn.
What you have to remember is that because I am portly by skydiving standards, my instructor has to be pretty dainty to even things out. We are already hooked together and I had the lead in scooting us both to the edge of the plane. It looked like that scene in Star Wars when Chewbacca was carrying a mangled C-3PO in a knapsack.
As my feet dangled from the ledge, I looked out at the majestic beauty beneath me. I was humbled by all of God’s splendor. At least, that was how I remembered the moment until the video proved I actually had to have the instructor pry my hand off of the bar above my head which clearly read, “DO NOT GRAB THIS BAR.” Before I could say, “What exactly is y’all’s refund policy?” I was floating in midair.
The first few seconds were a blur. Literally. They were also a “burr.” As in, “Boy, it is cold at 14,000 feet…now 13,000…now 12,000…” All I can recall is my face-fat flapping back at me. I looked like a bloodhound riding a roller coaster.
Then after about 60 seconds that seemed more like an all day Jerry Lewis Telethon, I felt the wondrous pull of the parachute. While the fall became less intense, the chute caused the harness to squeeze around my crotch much more so. Even as it was happening I thought, “That’s ok. That squeeze is letting me know I am still floating and not flying.”
So after a 20-minute flight to our apex, a 60-second of free fall, and a five-minute glide back to land, my journey was complete. I don’t know if I would claim skydiving to be a life-affirming moment. I suppose time will tell. But I do know that when Delta tells me to make sure my seatbelt is fastened, next time I will make sure my seat belt is fastened!